AEE 1371: Grammar Shouldn’t Make you Tense Part 4: When Textbook English Grammar Leads you Astray

English grammar

Have you ever considered how much you learn from a textbook?

Have you ever tried to use some of these lessons in conversation?

The problem is that sometimes the lessons that you learn in a textbook don’t necessarily work well in conversations in English.

We’re going to look at such an example, and why you need to learn through other methods such as this, how to have natural conversations.

Though you may learn grammar lessons in a textbook, you will see why that doesn’t always work well when you want to talk like a native.

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Learning Beyond The Textbook

The last episode in our series was about stative verbs, and how to use them to sound more native.

The idea of this was to ensure that you don’t get flagged as a lower level English speaker.

Today we’re going to talk about one of the first rules English grammar books teach you, and why it may not actually be that important in the long run.

We’re going to look at how you are taught when to use present perfect or present perfect progressive.

More importantly we’re going to learn why you should never learn it in the first place!

This may sound a bit unusual, but the reality is that you won’t learn many conversational skills from a textbook alone.

So we’re going to look at what the lesson is from a textbook, and why that isn’t necessarily such practical advice in the first place.

Looking At A Very Common Rule

One of the first rules you may learn from a textbook for present perfect is to describe something in the past that continues to now.

So a textbook would instruct you to say “I’ve lived here for 5 years” or “I’ve eaten a lot of healthy salads lately.”

Actually though we use that tense for things that are finished in the past.

We tend to think of this for actions that you could also use past simple for, but, since we don’t say the time, and the experience is more important, we use present perfect. 

When a native is describing something that started in the past and is still happening now, they would usually choose the present perfect continuous.

They may say something like “I’ve been living in Arizona for 10 years now.” or “I’ve been eating a lot of healthy salads lately.”

So you can see that it’s a difference in the way that you say it, but that’s significant in conversation.

You want to ultimately be able to talk like a native and have meaningful conversations.

So you want to learn everyday real conversation skills, rather than talk like you only learned rules out of a texbook.

This is why we teach you beyond just a textbook–and this is how you will really learn to speak like natives.

This can help to take your conversation to another level!

Understanding These Basic Grammar Rules

What are the basic grammar rules for these two tenses that natives actually use in real life?

Present Perfect Progressive

This is an-in progress past action that is likely to continue or to happen again.

This is formed by combining have/has + been + verb/ing so you can see how it comes together.

You could say something like “He has been sleeping in all week.”

Present Perfect

This is an action that started in the past at an unknown time or that continues to the present.

It is formed by combining have/has + past participle, and so the sentence comes together in this way.

You might say something like “He has slept in all week” or “He’s slept in all week.”

Both of these are “grammatically correct” and they come straight from a textbook.

Yes they work and they are feasible sentences, but would you naturally say sentences in this way?

You would be more likely to say something like “I’ve been wearing pajamas all week!”

This flows and works well in a conversation that you might have with somebody.

You wouldn’t likely use the present perfect version of this and say “I’ve worn pajamas all week” to highlight the recent continuous nature.

These may seem like simple fixes, but they make all the difference in your conversations.

If you want to take your English speaking up a level and really speak like the natives, then these are the types of things to focus on.

Why Is It Important To Know This?

You might ask yourself why this matters anyhow?

You probably have learned a lot about vocabulary and grammar, so why is this so important to know about and use?

When it comes to speaking a language, it really is all about connection.

You don’t want to be spending a lot of time memorizing grammar rules from textbooks.

Though those grammar rules may be important in some ways, they aren’t very helpful when it comes to real life conversations.

Most natives don’t know these rules, and they certainly don’t practice them in conversations.

They often use them incorrectly, and they won’t love being corrected if they do.

This would likely upset a native if you tried to correct them on their grammar usage straight from a texbook!

It is a huge waste of time to learn grammar in textbooks, especially in this capacity.

For this type of thing, it will just make you sound formal and non-native, and that can feel cold and distant.

Grammar rules may have their place, but you want to focus on natural conversations first and foremost.

Roleplay and Questions To Help

In this roleplay consider that you just met at a friends house.

You’re going to ask these types of questions when you first meet someone.

See how you naturally answer these types of questions, and you will begin to see how this conversation flows.

  • Where are you from? You are trying to get to know more about someone and it can be as easy as where they live. This may go into a further conversation about where they grew up and where they live now–a very interesting conversation can be had here!
  • How long have you lived here? This works hand in hand with the question above. This is great when you are speaking to a non native so that you can learn a bit about their background. This will inevitably lead into what brought you here and what are your future plans as well.
  • Where are you working? This gives you a bit of insight into somebody professionally speaking. If you learn about where they work, then you can understand a significant part of their life. It’s interesting to see what people do for a living, and it may lead into what their future plans are.
  • How long have you worked there? This again helps to give insight into what their path has been. It may be that they have longevity and have lived and worked here for a long time. It may also be that they have just started a new job or just come to this area.
  • What do you do for fun? This is the ultimate question in getting to learn more about somebody. This helps you to understand if they have any hobbies or interests. This can tell you a lot about a person, for this is all about what they do in their free time.
  • How long have you been doing that? This will likely give you a glimpse into this persons past and their overall story. When you start asking about timelines in this way, it can really help you to see what has lead them to this point in time.

All of these questions can help you to learn a little more about somebody.

They are all a very natural part of the language and the conversation, and so they work well.

These are based in real life conversations, rather than just what you would learn in a textbook.

This is a great way to get the conversation going, and to make important and lasting connections.

Takeaway

You want to connect with others in a language and feel very natural in doing so.

Spend your time learning interesting vocabulary instead of memorizing grammar rules, because this will help you with real life interactions.

The most important grammar rules and conversation tips can’t be learned in textbooks, and this is where real life experience and conversations matter the most!

Try these out and see how natural they help you to feel in conversation, and you will notice your confidence go up in making connections too.

What questions do you have? Let us know in the comments.

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